South Padre Island has long been popular with tourists and Winter Texans, as well as those who choose to live there. And while the island’s relative remoteness might be an asset, as it continues to develop and the number of people of visitors increases, that remoteness could become a greater liability.
Thus, discussions are warranted regarding the need for hospital beds, even if they are few.
Dr. Richard Ybarra, medical director for SPI Emergency Medical Services, last month presented the city’s economic development board a report on a hospital feasibility study that found the locale could support a mini-hospital.
Ybarra said he has tried unsuccessfully in the past to attract more complete health care services to the island. He concluded that a major reason his effort hasn’t been fruitful is “because we didn’t form a partnership with the city.”
In other words, an investment of taxpayers’ money might be needed to help cover the estimated $10 million cost of running a small hospital.
Fortunately, people seem receptive to the idea.
EDC board members expressed interest, as did Harlingen Medical Center CEO Matt Wolthoff. Another possible resource that hasn’t been available before is the still-developing University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which already has established clinics and a mobile care unit to serve Valley residents.
Almost 3,000 people live on the island, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But that number doesn’t include the thousands more who visit during Spring Break, the summer months and on weekends and holidays, not to mention the many retirees who make South Padre Island their winter home. And once launches begin from the SpaceX facility at nearby Boca Chica Beach, the number of visitors certainly will escalate.
And when crowded conditions increase, so do the chances for mishaps. Careless Spring Breakers and other visitors have been injured or even killed in accidents or from violence. Fortunately, such cases have been rare, but when someone suffers a major injury, a nearby hospital would enable the patient to be admitted and stabilized until transport to a larger facility is less of a risk.
More than 1,000 ambulance calls are made on the island every year. Fortunately, they don’t all require hospital admission. When they do, ambulances must work their way through the often-crowded Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge or air transport must be called.
Even those options aren’t always available. Although the cases are rare, flooding can impede ambulances and bad weather can make air transport impossible. Heavy winds have grounded medical helicopters, and a couple have crashed in high winds.
While the need for a second causeway to the island has been discussed for decades, actual construction is still years away.
It’s good to see officials’ interest in bringing at least a few hospital beds to South Padre Island. We hope Dr. Ybarra’s work will help convince healthcare providers that such a facility is worth the investment.